In the forest fire areas in Siberia, thousands of forces are fighting the flames. In the Irkutsk region alone on Lake Baikal, 4,500 volunteers have attempted to prevent the fires from spreading to settlements. Although the military operation with firefighting planes initial successes: Within 24 hours, 25 fires have been eliminated in an area of nearly 7,000 hectares, said the forest authorities. However, the fires have now already destroyed three million hectares of forest, an area the size of North Rhine-Westphalia. And 174 forest fires are still active on an area of 125,000 hectares.
The economic damage to the taiga is estimated at 2.4 billion rubles (33 million euros). The oil industry also suffers damage from the forest fires. The Rosneft company reportedly had to evacuate employees and suspend drilling. At several locations, the drilling was said to have been completely stopped over the past week over several days. The smoke prevented helicopters from carrying staff: "Sometimes visibility is around 20 meters, and it's impossible to breathe and work, and we had to cease all activity for a few days in the past week," a Rosneft insider said the news agency Reuters.
For days, people have been suffering from the effects of fires, complaining of headache and shortness of breath due to the smoke. According to the forestry authorities, 121 settlements are still in the immediately affected zone, where the smoke is particularly strong. In many towns, streets and pedestrian zones remain empty, on cars ash deposits have settled. More than 800 villages have been affected since then, right up to neighboring Kazakhstan.
100 years until the tree population recovers
Forest and steppe fires are not uncommon in Siberia. But this time, strong winds and untypically high temperatures of up to 30 degrees have caused the fires to be much larger than they normally are. The authorities have left the fire for too long this time, is the reproach of many inhabitants. Especially in the remote regions of the taiga and tundra in the sparsely populated north of Siberia, the authorities had apparently renounced extinguishing for cost reasons, the news agency AFP reported. Forestry experts predict that it will take 100 years for the forest to recover from the fire.
The flames could also have an impact on the climate: forest fires so close to the Arctic Circle, according to Greenpeace Russia, accelerate the thawing of permafrost soils containing gigantic amounts of frozen biomass. Unhook them, put greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Because there are fewer trees, these could be less well absorbed, which in turn favors future forest fires. In addition, soot particles covered ice and snow surfaces. Except in Siberia, unusually many forest areas have been burned this year in Canada and Alaska.
Siberia - Continued large-scale forest fires in Siberia The fire affects a forest area of more than three million hectares. Investigators are investigating whether some of the fires involved arson. © Photo: Yakov Andreev